Saturday, January 7, 2012

Chief Minister or Chief Mourner?


Empathizing with those who suffer is a virtue worthy of a noble human being. However, when those who are empowered, entrusted and expected to alleviate the sufferings of others make it a political habit to engage in the public display of empathy often in order to cover their failures to do so, it would be unwise for us to call it noble. Similarly, speaking out against injustice is a highly laudable act but when those who are supposed to deliver justice merely talk about justice without doing much to ensure its delivery to the people, we should not shy away from calling it empty rhetoric. Politicians, as a species, are adept at offering condolences, expressing regret, and recommending compensation. They claim that they do so by way of owning up moral responsibility for what happened and to share the sorrow of their people. That’s a lie. These acts are aimed at deflecting public anger and stopping the opposition from making any political capital.

J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah too has learned the game - the art of empathizing with the Kashmiris. In 2010, he had not mastered this art and that is why it took 55 days of protests and 49 deaths for Omar to visit the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) in Srinagar to visit the injured. This time around – indeed for the first time- Omar didn’t waste any time in visiting the family of Altaf Ahmad Sood in Boniyar who was killed in CISF firing. He called the killing by CISF as murder and told a TV channel “You don’t deal with a genuine protest the way you did… this was not a protest for azadi, this was not a protest for Pakistan. This was a protest for genuine demand that people have for electricity.” Calling the killing “excessive” and “inexcusable”, he demanded justice for the boy’s family. So far so good. So what is the problem?

Consider this: every time a human right violation was committed or the security forces/J&K police killed someone in a fake encounter in Kashmir, Omar has expressed his moral outrage against it. He has demanded that such instances should not take place under any circumstances, and yet they continue unabated. Omar keeps demanding the removal of AFSPA but has failed to deliver. He has repeatedly talked about setting up a truth and reconciliation commission in Kashmir, but no action. He tweeted regarding Afzal Guru sometime back, “If J&K assembly had passed a resolution similar to the Tamil Nadu one for Afzal Guru would the reaction have been as muted? I think not.” But that was it…just words and nothing more. More importantly, the Chief Minister keeps reminding New Delhi and the rest of us that ‘Kashmir is a political problem’, but does precious little about it.

Do not take away their right to grieve!
Sajad Lone wisely remarked when asked to comment on the Chief Minister’s visit to Altaf’s family to offer condolences that the Chief Minister is taking away the right of Sood’s relatives to grieve for their dear one.
Indeed, the Chief Minister of J&K is responsible for maintaining law and order in the state, it’s his job. When his administration fails, he must of course apologize for that. But if he fails unfailingly, then he must rethink his ability to continue in the job. J&K needs a Chief Minister, not a Chief mourner. For one, it defeats the purpose of governance with accountability because the Chief Minister’s job is not to go from home to home morning those killed by security forces but to make sure that his people are not killed by security forces in the first place. Secondly, apart from taking the steam out of people’s anger what can Omar’s rudaali acts achieve? If the excessive and criminal use of force that killed Altaf goes unpunished, what difference does Omar’s home visit make to Altaf’s family?

We also don’t need Omar Abdullah to denounce the policies of the central government (of which his party is a coalition partner) and the irresponsible acts of the security forces thereby playing the centre vs. state game; there are enough people in Kashmir to do that. Indeed, playing the Centre vs. State game has historically been NC’s favorite pastime. It has become fashionable in Srinagar to blame New Delhi for everything that has gone wrong in Kashmir without really contemplating as to what Srinagar could have done differently in order to prevent New Delhi from doing what it did in Kashmir. I keep repeating this but let me say this once again. Gone are the days when the Central government could have forced policy decisions down the throats of the state governments. Today, due to the forces of coalition politics, it is often the case that the Centre needs the states more than the other way round.

Kashmir needs a Chief Minister who can stop the excesses of the security forces and force the Indian Defense Ministry/Home Ministry to give permission to prosecute the erring members of its security forces. In other words, J&K does not need a Chief Minister who reminds Kashmiris what they need but one who can give them what they need. Next time when the security forces target another hapless Kashmiri, the Chief Minister should go and storm the headquarters of the agency that commits the crime instead of rushing to the family of the victim to mourn. Kashmir doesn’t need rudaalis, it needs politicians with guts.

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